essays & discussions

The Tangents blog has seen numerous iterations over the past 10 years that I’ve maintained it. Originally it was PlanetNeil, which was based on an HTML template. Right now, my website consists of various WordPress installations, spread over two domain names. It’s huge! And it is a massive under-taking to maintain and constantly improve it. For the past few years, my web techie guy, has been Griffin Stewart who has been invaluable in working with me on improving and expanding this site. Learn more about Griffin at the end of this post here.

I specifically mentioned that this website is based on the WordPress platform. It is a powerful platform, and one which is easy to use, yet endlessly adaptable. I would strongly recommend to anyone to use WordPress if they are looking to improve their website. There are also numerous WordPress plug-ins that make life easier for anyone who maintains a website …

 

5 Free WordPress Plugins to help maintain your blog

a guest post by Griffin Stewart

Thanks to Neil for inviting me to guest post.  I have enjoyed working with Neil since 2011 to help design, update, organize, consolidate, and tweak his various sites and I hope that you, his readers, have enjoyed and liked the front-end changes and back-end improvements we have implemented in that time.

Today I would like to share with you some helpful and free plugins that you can use to help you maintain, clean up, and customize your WordPress website or blog.

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photographers … so you think P on your camera stands for Professional?

I know, I know .. it’s a funny comment that P stands for professional. But somehow it always irks me to the extent that I just can’t suppress my reply. Maybe it’s the purposeful dumbing-down making it seem okay not to want to know more and continually improve. Maybe that’s what gets to me. Still, I think my reply is more cute.

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photographers – when was the magical moment when you first got hooked?

I’m sure we all have similar stories – how we got hooked on photography, and it became less of a mild interest, and more of an over-riding fascination. A fascination bordering on compulsion, where you felt you just had to take photographs of everything around you. What was the moment where you realized you’re hooked on photography?

Let me kick this off then – My own interest in photography started somewhere during high-school years. I was an avid nature enthusiast as a child, devouring anything to do with animals and nature. From this I was also a keen bird-watcher.

My dad had a Praktica camera. In fact, it was the Praktica Mat model. Praktica cameras were made in East Germany. Solid in every aspect, and not as sweet and lithe as the Japanese cameras. But as a first camera, I loved using it. My first proper camera that was mine, and not just borrowed from my dad, was a Pentax ME Super, but I digress. My dad also had a Tokina 300mm f/5.6 with stop-down metering. This clunky old lens was my first step in trying to photograph animals and birds … and I soon realized that photography was far more interesting than passively observing animals.

That’s where it started for me. I steadily became more and more interested in photography, but there was one moment where I knew this is it, WOW!

I was kneeling on the bathroom floor, the windows blacked out with towels in a make-shift darkroom … and I was developing my first B&W print from the first roll of B&W film that I shot and processed myself. As that first image sprang to life and that white sheet changed into a black-and-white – an actual photograph! – that was it. Pure magic.

That first photograph I printed was of a Dalmatian we had as our family pet. I loved that dog! Disney had it right in how wonderful Dalmatians are. While I still have that original B&W negative, it is in deep archive. And by deep archive, I mean some random box deep somewhere in the basement. Instead, here is another photograph of another Dalmatian I had years later.

The photograph at the top is of Brakko, who was one of two dogs that I owned way back when we lived in South Africa. (This is from early 1990′s.) I used him as a test subject when I tried out my brand-new used flashmeter that I had just bought. The light is from an off-camera speedlight diffused through an umbrella that I lay on the ground.  Very simple lighting.  That guarded look on his face is because he wasn’t sure about an 80-200mm lens pointing straight at him.

Of the photos I took of him, I loved this very tight crop, with his eye the only bit of color in the frame .. aside from him not having had a bath in weeks and weeks.

Ok, your turn. Let’s hear about your moment when it just hit you that photography is something I just had to do.

 
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a passion for photography

October 2, 2013

do you have a passion for photography?

Are you truly passionate about photography? Great. But I need to have a quiet word with you about that, because here’s the thing – no one cares. Truly, no one cares that you have a passion for photography. Probably not even your mom by now.

Ever seen a guitarist shred like crazy? A glass-blower carefully creating delicate art pieces? Or a dancer performing gravity-defying moves? Yes? Well, do you think they have passion? Sure they do. Otherwise they wouldn’t be doing what they are doing, at the level they are doing it at. But do they insist on telling you, or do they just live it and act it and be it and show you? Exactly my point.

While this may sound like the start of an irrelevant rant, indulge me for a few minutes. The words, “I have a passion for photography” on your website may actually hurt you with prospective clients!

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how to (and how not to) reference a blog post or article that you like

There’s a good way and a bad way to share an article or blog post you find interesting.

The good way:

The good way is by linking to the article in your own blog post, or on Facebook (or elsewhere). After all, people who write for an audience love that something gets attention and is found useful or entertaining, or is of some value. I can’t immediately think of a scenario where an author of an article on a website would not like others to read it. So please feel free to share to a wider audience.

A really good way to further a discussion, is to perhaps quote a line or two from the article; add a link to the original article with a credit … and then add your own spin on things with your own images. Your own words, and your own images.

The bad way:

The bad way of referencing the work of others would be wholesale copy-and-paste efforts. It is plagiarism. Blatant theft. Nothing less than that. You’re presenting yourself as a better photographer (and writer) than you really are. You’re lying to your clients and you are lying to your audience.

Even with a link and credit, this is bad, because:
- Google can penalize websites for duplicate content.
- You’re getting traffic and attention for someone else’s work.

So even if you copy the entire article and images, and link to the original article and reference the author, it’s still not a good thing. It might not quite be plagiarism because you feel you did credit the author, but it’s still not the proper way to do it.

If you like something you see on a website, do reference it and link to it – but when you quote the article, only quote a fraction of it. After all, as photographers we pride ourselves on being creative – so create your own!

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embracing serendipity during a photo shoot

I love that word – serendipity. A bit of chance favoring you. When a tiny bit of serendipity comes your way during a photo shoot, you have to be open enough to see it and then run with the idea.

This photo was taken during the mini photography workshop in Denver. Our model, Elizabeth, had dropped a box on her foot the previous day. When Elizabeth wriggled her feet into these high-heels for the photos, she bent over to soothe the arch of her foot. And then … those legs happened! There was something in this pose that really worked. So we went along with this a while. (I didn’t quite want to call this blog post “a happy accident”, since there was actually a minor accident involved for Elizabeth!)

This photo was taken with the Fuji X100s (B&H) using only the available light. By exposing for my subject, the background blew out. But I had to help that effect further with a bit of Photoshop work. The image was further enhanced with RadLab.

With her pose like this, the light reflecting off the ground lit up her face. Another happy accident. We tried different poses with that hand … and it never quite fell into a position where *this* was the best pose. In the end, I really like this image, and how it came together.

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finessing photographic composition – and using off-camera flash vs. available light

With this background, I liked the way the dots were repeated in Olena‘s dress in reverse – white dots on black, instead of black dots / holds on silver. I liked the repetition, and decided to work with the composition of this photograph a bit.  For the final sequence of images – of which the image at the top is one – I asked Olena to really exaggerate the curve of her body to create an S-shaped, which in turn contrasted boldly with the rigid pattern of the background.

This article’s original title was going to be:  Off-camera flash vs the snobbery of “available light is always better”. When you look at the available light photo of Olena, you’ll see that the available light was pretty sweet – soft and flattering. But it lacked punch. It needed just that little bit of drama to it. The available light shot just looked a touch too bland. Off-camera lighting to the rescue!

I had the flash in a soft box to create flattering, yet dynamic light on her. I wanted her shadow to be more defined and become part of the composition, but that would’ve meant a harder light source. Holding the Lastolite 24″x24″ Ezybox (B&H) fairly close to her was the compromise. This way her shadow added a subtle element to the composition.

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your photographs are wonderful – you must have a really nice camera

There is an amusing anecdote doing the rounds as a graphic on Facebook and elsewhere – it’s a quote ascribed to Sam Haskins. Now, if you consider the number of quotes that get propagated on Facebook that are ascribed to Morgan Freeman, I’m surprised Sam Haskins even got a mention. But I digress.

The quote relates a story where a photographer smacks down a socialite in New York for some comment about the photographer’s camera. Well, here it is, and it kinda rankles me …

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your personal photography – aiming for more than just snapshots

This just might be my most favorite photo of my daughter, Janine. It’s from 10 years ago (2003), and she was 9 years old at the time. I was trying out my new Nikon D100, reveling in being able to instantly see any photos I took. We were outside in the garden area of the apartment complex we lived in at the time. With a long focal length, I concentrated on capturing her expression, and a little some of who she was at the time – that interesting blend of confidence and shyness … and a fortunate dose of just indulging her dad with the new toy.

Simplifying the composition, the photo is all about her expression and those soulful eyes. She still has that. But she has grown into a confident young woman.

She’s currently studying to become a Chemical Engineer and doing very well at university. Yup, she’s bright. That obvious intelligence is also blended with an amazing confidence now. She always was independent; even more so now as a young adult. There’s an individualism there that I can see others are drawn towards. Magnetic. It’s astonishing at times to watch her interact with other people with an assuredness I didn’t have until much, much later in my life. I’m very proud of her, and in a large way also in awe of who she is. She’s an incredible person to know. Even more so as her dad.

It’s interesting to look over the older photographs now, trying to recognize traces even then of who she is now.

And if I sound a little nostalgic, I am. She moved out of the house when university started last year, and she has gained momentum with her own life. So we see much less of her now.

While all the memories are intact, the photographs I have of her have an even more powerful resonance now. And I wish I had more photos of her.

Like any new parent, I shot rolls and rolls of film of her as she grew, but this tapered off as she grew older. In a way , as the “newness” of the baby was shed, we became more used to her as being part of the family. She’s just *there* with us; part of us.

Now I wish I had many more photos of her taken during later stages. And not just camera-phone snapshots, but more carefully crafted portraits like this image.

I think there is a danger there – if danger is the proper word – that we reach for our camera phones more readily than before, instead of using a “proper” camera to record events. Make no mistake, I do value having a camera and video-camera as capable as the iPhone on hand, everywhere. In fact, this weekend I surreptitiously recorded a 10 minute video clip as she railed about something. The gestures are amusing. Not that I’d show her now, but to her mother and I, this is an incredibly endearing thing to have. It’s very much her.

While having an iPhone / camera phone on hand is just dandy, I think that as photographers we easily become a little too lazy over time. We gradually start to neglect to properly photograph those who are dear to us with better cameras than just our phones.

So this post is a touch self-indulgent as I reminisce, it’s also a gentle reminder to everyone that there is real value in taking the extra bit of time and effort. We shouldn’t stop taking careful, meaningful portraits of those who touch our lives. With time, we’ll be ever more glad we did.

 

To counter-balance the sweetness of the photograph at the top, here are a few anecdotes from the past year …

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wedding photography – where to start building portfolio

I do get some interesting emails and Facebook messages. The strange ones run the whole range from trippy & bizarre, all the way to obscure. One of my favorite weird emails was one that had the title, “Nikon D100″ with the body of the email simply asking, “How do you do that?”

This morning, I saw news that Facebook is once again altering things, including the way that messages are delivered. Paid messages from strangers now seem to be on the horizon. So with that, for the first time in forever, I went through the backlog of messages in the “other” folder. And I saw this message that I show here as a screen-capture.

What bemused me was the polite and respectful tone. And yes, he did ask! Unlike others who have simply used images as they please. I’ve even had my my entire website ripped off. A very ballsy move that they denied to the end. It gets even stranger when you realize my bio is the most plagiarized part of my website! I even directly mention this in the one section. Yup, apparently you can just use my bio as a template by changing a few details. So this request now is an odd combination of sincerity and naiveté. That he even asked, is then a surprise in itself.

Obviously, the main problem here is that someone would even (naively) think it is okay to misrepresent his abilities to potential clients. If you can’t shoot in a certain way, or produce a certain quality of work already, then it is fraudulent to say you can. Your potential clients deserve better!

We can’t ignore that this kind of thinking is very prevalent in the photography industry. It is a regular thing for me to see other photographers on Facebook complain that their images and text were ripped off. It is that rife! There is the Stop Stealing Photos Tumblr blog, where photographers are constantly busted for using photos that aren’t their own. The scary thing is, that site mostly just shows theft of wedding & portrait photography! It’s an avalanche that tedious DMCA take-downs can’t effectively stem.

The culprits just don’t realize that they will be caught. One way or another. Sooner or later. And there can be significant consequences when they are busted, as just one example.

What I find most ironic with all this, is that photographers like to think of themselves as creative people. Yet, there is such a vast number of wannabe photographers who happily steal and misappropriate and plagiarize. Where’s the self-respect?

I’ve even heard of photographers using the sample albums from album companies as their own work. Yup, they’ve all been shooting the same fabulous wedding in Italy.

The disconcerting element to all of this is that two photographs from someone else, could qualify one as a wedding photographer. That, sadly, is how low the bar is!

Mulling over this request, my reaction ranged from amusement, all the way to “are you f’n kidding me?”, back to the idea that this guy, like other aspiring photographers, is struggling with ideas of how to start as a wedding photographer …

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